It’s a moving sight. Thousands of people, stretching block after block in Seattle’s Central District, of all backgrounds and ages, marching in the spirit of racial solidarity and the unfinished work of Martin Luther King Jr.
Seattle’s MLK march — now in its 38th year — challenges us to answer the call to make the national holiday a “day on, not a day off.” Not a day for shopping or TV binges, but a day to reflect and act.
I have attended numerous Seattle MLK marches and always come away feeling that despite how daunting our challenges may be, we are the ones we have been waiting for.
When we come together, change might be more possible than we realize. It’s easy when fighting on Twitter over the latest outrage to forget the power and importance of being in each others’ physical presence. Human connections knit our communities together and amplify our collective impact.
If marching is not your thing, the annual event is full of workshops delving into an array of topics, such as youth-led racial-justice movement building, know-your-rights training and understanding intersectional oppression. If that’s too extroverted for you, you can read a book on better understanding race or see a performance or film.
The point is to do something, especially those of us who carry with us the privilege to do nothing.
The theme for today’s march and events is “20/20 Vision,” an apt title given this moment in time. Our decisions this year will have ramifications for generations to come. How will we see our decisions in hindsight? Is our vision for the future clear?
In so many ways, this year’s MLK day is an opportunity to clarify that vision. We are at the beginning of a new decade and a new year, on the precipice of a presidential election that will have dramatic consequences for our future. Our actions this year could either deepen racial and social fault lines or begin to repair them. We face existential threats from climate change faster than our scientists’ worst predictions; we can continue to accelerate those changes or we can try to reverse them. We are seeing a rise in white nationalism and white supremacist attacks across the country that have left many communities fearful; how will we resist? The challenges can truly seem daunting.
In 1967, King was also at a crossroads. This was reflected in his book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?”
“White Americans must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society,” King wrote.
“The comfortable, entrenched, the privileged cannot continue to tremble at the prospect of change of the status quo. … This is a multiracial nation where all groups are dependent on each other. … There is no separate white path to power and fulfillment, short of social disaster, that does not share power with black aspirations for freedom and human dignity.”
Though written 53 years ago, it is no less true today. We are dependent on each other. Flawed, growing, stumbling as we may be, all our efforts are valuable and necessary. The drop in the pond that makes a ripple outward is each one of us, in whatever sphere of influence we might hold. We will make mistakes but we must try.
It’s hard to take that first step. It’s hard to get outside of our comfort zones, to do things that may be scary or unfamiliar, be vulnerable with people who are different from us. It’s hard to unpack and accept our privilege and it’s hard to share power and resources and be accountable for our mistakes. It’s particularly hard for us to talk across difference about race.
But today is a great day to start.
King famously paraphrased abolitionist Theodore Parker, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Yet it does not bend on its own. It requires the effort and commitment of millions of people pushing the arc toward true, long-lasting, systemic change that aligns with our 20/20 vision for the future.
This MLK Day, when I look out on the sea of humanity gathered to bend that arc, I hope to see you there.